New room for a nine year old
February 14, 2011 9:11 PM   Subscribe

We want to help give a nine year old girl a new start, by making her room more habitable and homelike for when she returns

She has been wanting her room redone since she got it, now seems to present a good opportunity, and she loves the idea. The plan is to make the room that she currently has feel more like home and a welcoming place worth making stable.

She has had a rocky start, first being raised in significant neglect by her mother who is currently a guest of the State, and now being raised by her father as a single parent in a house with myself another tenant and our landlord. She has had escalating behavioral issues at school and in the care of babysitters, each of whom in turn refused to continue caring for her, eventually overwhelming her fathers ability to logistically and emotionally cope. This all culminated last month in her being surrendered to CPS where she has been getting help while her father arranged for therapy, better after school care, and support for himself.

She is now returning soonish and could use a more pink, girly, adventurous organized environment. Unfortunately neither her father, the other housemates, nor I are all that connected to what interests nine year old girls these days. From what I can recognize, she is into Hannah Montana, Dora the Explorer, singing, dancing, drawing, periodic rambunctiousness, sleep overs with a friend who is occasionally a bad influence, sneaking up on people (she giggles to much to be effective), and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

It obviously needs storage space, are there nine year old appropriate storage solutions? Creative things we could do to make the ceiling more attractive? The floor? Should she have a desk? What are some things awesome to a nine year old that wouldn't occur to us?
posted by Blasdelb to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (49 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
First off, what is your budget? Are we talking Goodwill, Ikea, or Pottery Barn? That will dictate a lot of choices that she makes.
But to emphasize, she'll get the most mileage out of this if the choices are her own. Maybe you should start by taking her paint chips and catalogs, and asking her what she would like to have the best.
Also, I think that a desk of my own would have rocked my world when I was nine. But after a week or so it would have been covered in junk. So the desk would be a great addition, but you are still going to have to work with on having desk-y habits.
posted by pickypicky at 9:18 PM on February 14, 2011

I loved glow-in-the-dark stars like this on my ceiling -- but a huge part of me loving it was actually doing the arranging on my ceiling, so maybe present these to her instead of doing it yourself.

Ikea and Pottery Barn Kids both have good kid storage options (I linked to the storage systems, but there's just bins and stuff too. Ikea has a ton of not-very-expensive furniture-type things. A desk is a great idea -- give her some journals with locks and colored pens, so she can express herself privately.

One of these rugs would also have made me silly happy as a 9-year-old girl. Sheets like these from Company Kids or Target would also be good (I'm sure there's a zillion other options like that -- the Company Store stuff is great quality but I don't know what your price point is).

Though honestly, I might get the big stuff (furniture and whatnot) before she gets there, but let her be involved with picking the sheets and the decorations -- it might help her even more to have a grown-up listening to her opinions. Obviously steer her towards the price range you want, but what I loved most was having my room be designed by me :).
posted by brainmouse at 9:23 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: A desk for sure. Nine is a good age to start feeling like a scholar. Having a neat, organized, but personal space to do one's schoolwork is a nice thing.
posted by Neofelis at 9:25 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I can't tell the extent of the paneling on the walls, but if any of the walls are drywall, I loved having permission to paint/draw on my walls when I was a kid with artistic tendencies. When I got to be a teen and having my nine year old drawings on the wall wasn't so cool anymore, I just went over it with another coat of paint. obviously, this won't work with paneling.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:27 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Chalkboard paint.
posted by availablelight at 9:32 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

A desk and a nice bookcase with a fun selection of new books and drawing materials. books can be secondhand. A mixture of storybooks, science & animal books (horses, dogs, nature, birds etc) and some light sci-fi/ ghost stories. I think you are going in the right direction with the pink stuff and the branded stuff but make sure she has creative outlets too. Maybe a chest with dress up clothes (you can all contribute) or legos or an easel.

And maybe you can paint a wall with blackboard paint. Super fun, if a bit chalky.
posted by fshgrl at 9:33 PM on February 14, 2011

Seconding the glow-stars. Chalkboard paint is fun if it's OK with the landlord.

Something personalized--a throw pillow with her name on it, maybe?--feels so special to many kids that age.

You guys are awesome for taking the time to make this special for her.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd be wary of choosing a lot of pink that will be difficult to remove later. (If you are okay with the idea of repainting in a year or two or buying new bedding, than never mind, do the girly pink fantasy!) Nine is getting very near the age when a lot of girls suddenly hate pink and girly stuff and want something more grown up. I would probably go with lime green or lavender or a different color that is girly but translates to pre-teen decor a bit easier and then add easily removable pink things. Basically, aim for a look that seems a teeny bit older than she is now so she will love it a bit longer. (I have a 13 year old girl. They can go from Hannah Montana to Twilight Teen Drama verrrry quickly.)

On preview - yes definitely a desk. My 10 year old boy and 13 year old girl both LOVE their desks. Chalkboard paint is also a great idea as are bulletin boards to hang up notes and pictures.
posted by artychoke at 9:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah, at nine her tastes are going to be changing rapidly (to put it mildly) for the next several years.

So I'd focus on just brightening the place up (can you paint that wood paneling a nice warm white?) and then bring in smaller bits of pink/Hannah Montana/ etc.. Although, you could paint the bed frame a bright pink as that would be really easy to re-paint later.

Chalkboard paint is a great idea. If you can't actually paint the walls for some reason (or don't want a whole black/green wall) you can get think poster-board and paint that.

And WTF is going on with the ceiling? Uh, maybe some fabric pinned up there to cover that... stuff?
posted by grapesaresour at 9:39 PM on February 14, 2011

What kind of stuff does she have a lot of? This will dictate what kind of storage would be best. For example- stuffed animals can be put in those hammock things that hang from the ceiling, books need shelves, crafty stuff is good kept in plastic boxes with tiny compartments for the different little doodads. An easel could be fun if she likes art. If she likes to read, a beanbag chair and lamp might be good. If she's the dress-up princess type, a dressing screen and vanity can make the room feel more 'princessy'. You say she likes dancing, so maybe a big mirror on one wall like a ballet studio? (And are you sure she likes pink? You know not all of us princesses like pink...).
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This may sound silly but... Ask her. Don't assume she's into pink and girly. Let her have as much control as possable over the state of her room. Kids with really rough lives don't feel in control of ANYTHING, and that is frusterating and can lead to acting out. (bad behavior is something they can control.) So if you guys let her have a lot of say into the process of putting her room together, she'll feel more comfortable in it and also feel like there's something she has control over.

Also, when i was 9 I loved having a little shelf to display whatever i thought was most special at the time, maybe a small favorite toy or some neat rocks and feathers I found or a drawing from a friend or whatever. It made me feel that stuff that was important to me was important and had a place.

Also, books. Even if she's not totally into reading, having some books around may just tempt her into reading on an otherwise boring day, and that's great. Even comic books or whatever. Printed word is good.

And art supplies. Dosen't have to be fancy, crayons and bond paper are great. Even if you don't think she's ready for a desk, a flat surface that she can use to do stuff on is nice, even if it's just a lap-board or fold out table. A nice set of pencils, a how to draw book and a hardbound sketchbook is an inexpensive and age appropriate but also mature feeling gift that I would have liked at that age.

Storage that you can see inside. As an adult, this is kind of still a thing with me but it was a bigger thing when I was a kid. If i can't see inside a storage container, i will tear it apart looking for the thing i was looking for. If it's clear though, or otherwise seethrough (I have some great wire mesh drawers from ikea) i am much more likely to keep my stuff clean and not tear my room apart looking for things.

I had glow in the dark stars on my celing as a kid. They were all of like, $2 but my mom and I got a library book of pictures of constellations and spent time putting up both replicas of real constellations on the celing and constellations we made up. The stars actually made me happy to turn off the light to see them.

And please, please don't feel obligated to fall into the gender stratificaiton. Don't leave out books about space and dinosaurs and egyptology and outdoor activities and cars and well, whatever. don't assume she wants pink... I know a lot of girls really genuinely like girly stuff but the best thing my parents ever did was also provide toys that girls don't usually get, like dinosaurs and trucks and science themed toys and outdoor toys and star wars action figures. (ok ok so it was the 80's, but still...) I'm still a pretty girly girl, but having that stuff really helped me realize i don't have to fall into a sterotype, i grew up comfortable with things a lot of other girls aren't. (lots of girls say they're bad at science or math or auto matinance... sad but true, society still kind of projects this on girls... don't fall into that trap!) I mean, i loved barbies and dolls and ruffles. I just liked other stuff too. It dosen't have to be one or the other, a girly girl or a tomboy, girls can like everything all at once. (boys too...why don't boys get a baby doll? don't we want them to grow up to be good, loving daddies?)
posted by RampantFerret at 9:41 PM on February 14, 2011 [17 favorites]

Best answer: What about really working with those panels? I'd use some sample pots of paints [look in the remains section of the hardware paint section, I pick them up for a dollar or two each] in fairly pale complementary colours and create some stripes by painting each plank a slightly different colour from the same palette. You've got the rattan blind which would be great against some light greens, pale pinks and slightly darker greens and maroons.

If you sanded the bed a little bit you could paint that too as it has complementary verticals. Or leave it, it looks like a pretty good bed. A new duvet cover and big pillows would dress the room. The drawers look like they need a little repair but are otherwise really cute - rub some candle wax along the runners to get them sliding closed properly and put on some new draw handles/knobs. Say round glass ones. Put that mirror [paint it first, probably] on top of the dresser to give some Barbie glamour.

That ceiling is in a bit of a state and the biggest issue you have there. I'd get in a gyprocker or whatever you call your plaster people in the US and get a ceiling put in. It'd be a half day job for a sub-contractor and would instantly make the room feel finished and lovely. This is probably the biggest part of the job.

Put some hooks into the ceiling - drill into the support beams under the gyprock - the gyprocker might do this as he'd probably have the drill and bits to do it while he's there [or she, of course]. From these any number of things could be hung - mobiles, fairy lights, paper sculptures/origami etc.

Good luck!

I think a desk is a good idea - I can't really see from the pics where it should go though.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:56 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

My parents installed tw0 HUGE bulletin boards made out of homasote covered in burlap (burlap comes in white and colors or you could use another fabric - just not too densly woven or it's hard to push the pins in.)
posted by vespabelle at 9:58 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you aren't 100% sure you will be able to choose things to her taste (and from this: Unfortunately neither her father, the other housemates, nor I are all that connected to what interests nine year old girls these days, I'm guessing not), you should probably let her take control.

I imagine that on top of all her other struggles lately, having confirmation that her father doesn't understand her tastes or age would be extremely hurtful.

One solution might be to get a bunch of decorating magazines and books (from the library even) with nice layouts and ideas for kids rooms, and present those to her when she gets back, then let her plan and pick things out, maybe together with her Dad. If you really want to buy some things in advance, you probably can't go wrong with the major furniture items, putting up a few shelves, and maybe a desk, lamp(s) etc. Then let her pick out curtains, bedding, cushions, rugs, and paint.
posted by lollusc at 10:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is a great thing you are doing. I have a 9-year-old girl, and I'll get her advice in the morning. It's hard because their tastes are so wildly divergent at this point. My kiddo, for instance, would be horrified to have Dora or Spongebob stuff in her room now (she's more into Monster High and Adventure Time these days). Here are some generalities I've noticed, though.

1. Comfy seating. If space allows, a comfy chair or papasan are very much used and appreciated. Makes for better sleeping habits if the bed is limited to actual bedtime stuff as well.

2. Some kind of autograph wall. My daughter has a whiteboard that all her friends and relatives must sign when they come over. Everyone gets a kick out of it, and it let's her think about her extended network anytime she is lonely.

3. Bins, bins, bins. Great for organizing and clean up.

4. Plenty of basic art supplies. Girls that age seem to be able to go through reams of paper and miles of markers for some reason.

If this project is taxing your budget, please let me know. We might be able to box up a bunch of gently used stuff and send it your way, if you think that would help.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:15 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Man, when I was about that age, I would have LOVED to have a reading tent of some sort. Like this or this (make a cheap version with a sheet), or this. Especially if she doesn't feel in control of much and especially if that ceiling thing can't be fixed, the tent might be a nice, comfortable spot for her to feel safe in a kid-sized safe spot all her own. Plus the tent might be cool for those sleepovers.
posted by BlooPen at 10:16 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would prioritise fixing the ceiling, to be honest. Those holes must be spooky at night - too many shadows for monsters to hide in. Is there any way you can install a hanging ceiling below the pipes? Or cover it up by with drapery, perhaps organza with some fairy lights behind it?

If she's set on pink, something like this or this would be good for storage. Don't buy anything branded with Dora the Explorer that you can't afford to replace in three years when she's 12 and is suddenly embarrassed by it. She might enjoy a trip to Ikea to choose a few accessories for herself.
posted by embrangled at 10:18 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

When my daughter was 9, we redid her bedroom. She wanted bunk beds, so we bought an inexpensive white tubular one, and it's been a huge hit. When not being used for sleepovers, she uses the top bunk as a private 'lounging' area by putting her bean bag and pillows up there so she can read/write/draw/daydream in peace.

We bought cheap opaque plastic tubs with lids which fit under her bed for storage of art supplies, bags, clothing accessories, etc.

Her wardrobe was plain white, I agreed to let her to smother it with posters and pictures of favourite bands, films, actors etc. In the 3 years since then, those posters have changed from Hannah Montana, through Twilight, and now we're up to her favourite boyband.

She absolutely loved that I let her pick the curtain fabric. Anything she wanted even if it made me shudder. She chose sheer lime green with glittery sparkles all over them. She loves those curtains with a vengeance, and they look great in a mostly white bedroom.

Tl;dr: absolutely let her have the most input into decorating. I'd be very surprised if she'd choose to have Dora now.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:21 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

A big mosquito net hung over the bed can make it feel like a fairy palace bed, but of course you'd have to fix it to the ceiling. (What is it with the ceiling there? Fixing that will make a huge difference to the room.)

My daughter loved having a hammock hung across a corner of the room. That also needs careful fixing, with two serious ring-headed screws going into solid wood, so you landlord might not be up for that (though the hole is only a 1/4 inch or so after the screws are removed, easy to fill.)

Can the bed go at the side of the room instead of in the middle? That will make a more spacious feeling.

Agreeing with everyone else that she should have a say in the decoration, particularly the color of the paint. Go with very light colors. NOT PURPLE! (Though she's probably not at the purple age yet.)

Add another standing light or two - being able to have differently-lit areas adds space.
posted by anadem at 10:22 PM on February 14, 2011

also, I thought Dora was more for 4-5 year olds... but I don't have a kid. Am I way off base with that one?
posted by RampantFerret at 10:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

RampantFerret: "also, I thought Dora was more for 4-5 year olds... but I don't have a kid. Am I way off base with that one?"

A while back they invented a preteen Dora.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:09 PM on February 14, 2011

Yeah, fix the ceiling. It's what she sees as she's trying to fall asleep and the first thing she sees when she wakes up. It would depress the hell out of me! See if you can do something about the wiring too (I know that might be impossible).

I'd suggest making the structural improvements on your own while she's gone and then redecorating the room with her input. That way she comes back to something new (which also shows you were thinking about her) but still gets the joy of planning her own environment. I do like the suggestion above about adding in all kinds of books. You never know when she'll get bored and pick one up.
posted by trig at 11:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, can't emphasize enough - let her be as involved with the process as budget permits.

I remember my parents surprising me with a completely redecorated room when I was about that age. Came home from school to find they'd gone through all my stuff, changed out the furniture, painted and wallpapered - the whole nine yards. Unfortunately, the style they chose would have been appropriate for a much younger pretty-pink-princess obsessed child.

I'm sure you know

I suppose they meant well, but the message I got was that my privacy wasn't respected, and that they didn't know, care or approve of who I was or what my tastes were.

Clearly, ours wasn't the healthiest relationship, but I relate all this so you don't underestimate how sensitive kids are at that age and how meaningful it is for them to have a sense of control over their lives.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:57 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was 11 or 12, I went to a friend's place for a weekend, and as a surprise present for me, my mother had dressed up my room, with pretty new guazy curtains, and a matching floor mat, and glossy highlights on my cupboards. The problem was she picked yellow as the colour, and I hate yellow. I had to pretend to love the room she'd gone to so much trouble to make nicer for me for the next 5 years. Yech.

When my daughter was 12 (and I know this is older than 9 but I think it still applies), she asked for us to paint her room vibrant lime green (worse than you can imagine) with a black feature wall and white trim. It looked pretty spectacular (though when the western sun hit it, an eerie green light would come out, like the goggles, they do nothing) and she loved it. Absolutely adored it and kept her room tidy ever after. (a shock to me).

So, yeah, sit her down and ask her. Say that these are the things you can afford and are willing to do: paint the walls (or not), paint the furniture (or not) to a budget of $x and if the paint is too much, the bed covering will have to be this much. Take her to the hardware store and let her pick from the paint colours (oh, so much fun and choice). Show her what a feature strip of wallpaper looks like, when the bottom half of the wall is one colour, and the top another. Give her the opportunity to be creative and to be unique and to be herself.

If she's anything like me or my daughter, it'll mean the world to her. Sure, you miss the surprise factor, but just finding out that she gets to choose how her room looks IS a big surprise.
posted by b33j at 12:03 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Posted too soon)

Didn't mean to insinuate that you'll be Sending A Message with the room makeover. I only wanted to point out that (especially for a kid with a ton of parental upheaval in her young life) sometimes a room means much more than just a room. It sounds like she's already involved in the process, and I'm sure it'll turn out great.

From a practical standpoint, I'd just go with IKEA. Cheap, customizable and easily replaced as she ages out of it. Bins were great when my daughter was that age - anything that keeps stuff off the floor & out of sight was a success. Not sure what your budget is, but I'd prioritize ceiling repair, more light, bookcases/shelves with bins and if she likes the idea, a bunk bed with a desk under it to maximize available floor space. After that, throw rugs and wall decoration. Sounds like a fun project! Enjoy!
posted by Space Kitty at 12:26 AM on February 15, 2011

That ceiling is a nightmare, and fixing that will make all the rest (which, I agree, should be done in consultation with the young lady). However, it looks like it may essentially be unfixable in any sort of a "real" way, given the house is a rental and that there are HVAC ducts and what looks like either a hot water line or something else. It would cost a lot to put it right.

However, maybe something like one of these these tent-like ceilings can be done (page is random, just early in google image results for "ceiling fabric", try the search yourself)? I recall a decade ago one of the decorators on Trading Spaces used fabric like this in a room, and I thought it was pretty cool. Find remaindered fabric inexpensively (again, with input) and go to town. Not having to stare at the grungy stuff will do wonders, I bet.

This could be a really fun project for everyone. From planning the ceiling treatment to budgeting and then choosing the paint, fabric, pictures and furniture which can be acquired through that process would have made me extremely happy as a kid. Don't forget your local CL as a source.
posted by maxwelton at 1:44 AM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: Some sort of chair/nook that has a sense of privacy and secrecy! I know that's rough in a smaller room.

If you get a desk, get a desk hutch with sides on it so she can write/draw in private.

There are also movable short walls where she can make a little fort-like thing on the floor. Not sure where you find them.

As a kid that age I LOVED having a little secret space, however small.

Also, a box where she can put her most private things.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:41 AM on February 15, 2011

Good lord, fix that ceiling.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:15 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Ferret has it: ask her. Even better, take her to Lowe's etc. and let her pick out her own stuff.
posted by yclipse at 4:27 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing -- DO ask her opinion about what she wants. Give her a couple of choices, let her make the decision.
Giant wall stickers are awesome -- flower-power, birds, etc. But again, let her choose which ones, and even let her put some up. It's fun! Most 9 year olds like things a lot more when they've had an input. This is a natural and healthy development towards maturity.

As for characters: recognize that just liking a show is not the same thing as wanting to declare it as your power icon in your room. She might privately still find Dora fun to watch; many kids still privately like their old characters because they are familiar and comforting But she'd probably be embarrassed to have Dora decor in her room nonetheless. Seven-to -nine-year-old girls actually spend hours talking about how "we hate Dora" because it marks their difference from little kids. I've heard this conversation between kids of this age in 3 states.
Hannah Montana becomes "too little" when most girls are about 10. Sponge Bob is fun to zone out to for many kids, but they wouldn't want him grinning at them all night.
So again: yeah, let her choose.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 5:02 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I get the feeling her fathers budget is somewhere just north of Ikea, and mine is similarly graduate school limited, though unfortunately the closest Ikea is two hours away. I am mostly looking for infrastructural things, as yes things like posters and frills should have her putting in the tacks, and I certainly wouldn't do anything without her active involvement.

Making some kind of secret space sounds AWESOME, right now her default is an area behind the television in the living room that she had annexed. Something like that Ikea fort will I think go a long way.

The ceiling is a standard dropped ceiling, which does leave some room for creative things to hang from it if plastering it can't work. The area in the corner is electrical and plumbing, unfortunately there isn't really anywhere else it could go even if we had the budget for that kind of thing.

I've never been comfortable with with anything gender stratified, but she seems to be. Though, she does loves my science toys and was really into an old (never used) lab coat I got her for her birthday with some goggles that really eat her face. Is there a good place to get children's books for cheap? She does love reading but has already exhausted my supply of age appropriate materiel (her testing says 3rd grade level).

Behind that screen in the first picture is cinderblock wall, could there be anything cool that could be done with that? The current solution seems like a decent one but we would be open to better ideas

These are awesome ideas, thank you all so much for everything so far.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:02 AM on February 15, 2011

Goodwill and Salvation Army are a great place to find children's books for cheap. Also, "church basement"-type thrift shops seem to have a lot as well.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:33 AM on February 15, 2011

Lots of comments about the ceiling but the floor is crying out for help too -- vinyl flooring in a bedroom? Yikes. Cold. Large rug...

Does the room have a window? Between the lack of window (?), scary ceiling, bad flooring and other issues, I suppose I'm wondering if what you don't want to do is swap her room for another, nicer one in the house.
posted by kmennie at 5:39 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing that might be nice would be to go to Target or JC Penney or Sears or Walmart and have her choose a "bed-in-a-bag" set, then paint the room (and furniture?) to go with that. It's less overwhelming than going through decorating magazines and things, which might feel like a chore.

For the ceiling, if you could hang a mosquito-net canopy (available at Target or Walmart) or some kind of curtains over some of that stuff, that might help.

Ikea is good for storage but so are Target and Walmart. Just make sure she has enough storage and that it matches her stuff - if she has loads of little fiddly toys, a big toy chest is not a good place to put those.

Good places to get children's books for cheap: Your Public Library (sorry, librarian here) - you can check books out of course but a lot of libraries have ongoing book sales. Walmart, Target, Big Lots - most 9-year-olds who love to read are not super-selective about what they're reading, so if you see a book that looks like it's in her age range and it's a dollar, go for it! Also if her school orders books from Scholastic that can be super cheap.
posted by mskyle at 5:53 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there any way to lighten the room up a little? If there's a window, putting blinds and light colored curtains over it instead of a shade would be nice. If you can't paint the walls/paneling, could you hang white fabric over them?
posted by MadamM at 6:08 AM on February 15, 2011

You know what....

there are a lot of "make over your room" DIY-type books out there that are pitched TO kids. You may want to hit a bookstore or library WITH her, to "get ideas" -- rather than have this be a whole "we will do everything for you huzzah!" kind of project, maybe make it "let's all do the planning together, and then we'll all paint your room/decoupage your furniture/whatever together as well".

She'll feel like she has a lot of involvement in the decision-making, and she can also take an extra measure of pride from ", that throw pillow rocks -- and it's something I MADE MYSELF! Wow!" And -- the DIY stuff is also budget friendly, especially when your'e talking about the kid level.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:22 AM on February 15, 2011

Dora the Explorer?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:03 AM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: IKEA is too far? You're in Columbus, right? Try craigslist!

Start with this raised platform bed!
posted by ellenaim at 7:08 AM on February 15, 2011

Don't forget lighting! A good rule of thumb is three sources of light. How about a floor lamp next to a seating area, Xmas lights could be fun either delineating a space like the sleeping area or desk zone or hung about the room. A bedside lamp is must and a flashlight!

If you can't redo the floor you can go to Home Depot and get regular carpet trimmed with a bound edge to just about any size you need. This would be an inexpensive base and you should then throw a colorful area rug over it.

The ceiling needs to be repaired at a minimum and you could think about painting the ducts and pipes white.
posted by amanda at 8:05 AM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: I agree that she should have lots of input, but in the meantime, you can give her a clean slate to start with. What I'm seeing is what others have pointed out: It's a basement with a scary ceiling, a cold, unwelcoming floor, no windows, and it's in dire need of cheering up.

The things that you mentioned that she likes are transient things; they're all phases and can be represented with throw pillows and posters. It looks more like the Dora kitchen has been abandoned in the corner than something she'd still enjoy. She's probably, in a way, not the same kid that went away. Give her a gift card to a store where she can blow some money on accessories. Most of the things I'll suggest are low-budget, because that's what I'm used to working with for myself - but also, low-effort because you probably just want to get it done and don't have days on end to run around shopping.

Also seeing the clothing, I know that lots of 9 year olds have a hard time with or simply hate being neat with their clothing, I'll offer my suggestions for dealing with clothes and kid clutter (and, as the mother of a seven year old girl, and who loves decorating - this is my dream job! And, my kid is home sick so I have lots of time for this!). You have a Target near you, right? And a Jo-Ann Fabric store? (Columbus?)

I'd say what she needs in there is light, comfort, fun and a breath of fresh air.

If I were you, here's what I'd do: Give her the basics, and let her embellish. It's good for her to be a part of it and have choice, but having too many decisions for her to make can lead to struggles. It's more important to get out of the strain of the doing, and into the joy of the done. Let her pick the major colours and such, but the adult choices come from the adults - give her structured choices outside of the basics. I'm just being reminded of this with my kid's birthday - I'm offering her what I CAN do for the party, not everything she wants.

First - empty the room and scrub it. Vacuum the mattress, wipe everything down. I'm not saying it's dirty - I'm saying it needs a fresh start, and clean feels good. Target has the Method cleaners and they are fantastic and I recommend something like the pink grapefruit. Wash the walls, and insides of the closets. Use pretty gift wrap paper to line the bottoms of the drawers inside. (And think good thoughts while you're doing it - give the room some good energy!) With her help, remove old broken things, clothes that don't fit and such. Only put back in there things that are beautiful, that she loves, and that she actually uses. Target and TJ Maxx and all sorts of stores have fabric or cardboard boxes in beautiful prints for storing keepsakes - give her a safe space for them that honours them and gives her privacy. They can go in a drawer, under the bed, in the closet or wherever - but everything is together, and safe. Valuable things should be cared for appropriately.

Here's our trick for letting go of things: If she's unsure about anything, put it in a box and put it away for two months. If she remembers and wants anything from the box, she can have it for the asking. If after that amount of time she doesn't want anything back - donate the box without opening it again.

If this is indeed a basement with no window - she needs a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. And you all need an emergency plan.

For the ceiling, if it can be fixed, fix it. But to hide the duct work and the ugly bits of the ceiling and pipes, you could go to a fabric store (Jo-Ann Fabric is a great source) and buy yards of muslin or sheer chiffon (tulle might be too sheer). These are very, very inexpensive - usually under $5/yd. There are usually coupons in the Sunday paper for as much as half off, there are sales, and there's usually a large clearance section too. Then get some of those 3m hooks, and white Christmas light strands, and attach the lights to the ceiling in long straight lines and then drape the fabric over it, and here is a simple way to do it that keeps the fabric away from the lights. If you can use a staple gun, great. If not, tacks. Do it as high up on the wall to cover the duct work to start, and go from there. If the ceiling is low, don't let it hang quite as much as in the picture. I'd keep it white or off-white, to brighten the space - though pale pink will cast a rosy glow - and it's as pretty and as nice as the glow in the dark stars. It can continue down the wall, looking like a curtain to hide that weird black cable (and hide the extension cord going to the outlet. Use a bead necklace or some ribbon to tie it like a curtain swag, using little cup hooks (dollar store) to tie it back. (We lived with our torn-down dining room ceiling like this for almost two years!) You can hang curtains or fabric from a hula hoop in the corner there to create a tent.

Can you paint? Please paint the walls, if the landlord will let you! Panelling like that isn't precious. A nice warm white is a good start (A safe choice, but classic and warm - Benjamin Moore's White Dove), and here's how I'd add colour (keeping the walls neutral means the fun can come from the accessories). A whitewashed look with the wood showing through would be fine too - look in the mis-tint section of the paint place. Our whole house is done in a colour that someone thought was more "linen" than "muslin" (And is actually Japanese Paper, by Sico) for less than $10/gallon).

If you can't paint, you can use fabric with starch as wallpaper! Choose something light, and with only a faint pattern.

Yes, a chalkboard wall would be great, and if you can do the cinderblock wall in that way, great. Chalkboard paint comes in other colours, not just black. It doesn't have to be a perfectly smooth wall for her to enjoy writing on it. If you're lever with a saw and mitre box, then use off-cuts of trim to frame it like a picture.

If not, I'd also suggest that you could find some fabric that she likes (Sheets are great for this!) (or, just choose something neutral enough - or something gorgeous and funky and versatile like this) and cover large acoustic ceiling tiles (Cheap at a Home Depot or other hardware store) with it (use hot glue, or a staple gun to upholster) and then use either a product like Liquid Nails or double sided tape to attach them to the wall to create a giant, wall-size memo board. You can either do the criss-cross ribbon thing to tuck pictures into, or push pins. Or, even more simply at a home store you can buy thick 12 X 12 cork tiles, paint them fun colours, and cover the wall with them.

The floor: Target has these great loopy or textured Chenille rugs, some in quite large sizes. They are easy to wash and come in great colours. And, unlike Ikea's woven rugs, they lay flat! You can sew a few together to make a larger area rug, but I'd rather have an easy to clean floor (that she can Swiffer herself, like my kid does) with washable rugs. It's easier than vacuuming a kid's room with all their bits and pieces and stuff that can get sucked up and generate tears.

The large furniture is decent - there's nothing I'd do to that; but instead of a desk, I'd suggest adding a small table and two chairs. They can go in the corner by the door, where there's a collection of small tables. Then an adult can sit with her for homework, or a friend for doing arts and crafts. If you can find a small outdoor Bistro or Cafe set, that's great - but this is where Ikea excells and it would be worth the trip. Craigslist is also a good source - here's one. Or, even better - this simple drop-leaf table and two cute chairs. A floor lamp near it, in the corner, would really help. (In fact, I'd find a way to throw light into all the dark corners.) (Literally, not figuratively.) I've read, and I believe, that kids should do their homework with adults nearby - like at the kitchen table - for help and supervision and support. If she's as active as you say, she won't spend much time being studious at a desk, but might like the space for drawing. Desks tend to face a wall, and artists often like to face something more inspiring!

Also, hang that gorgeous mirror above her dresser, and perhaps spray-paint it in a really fun colour? (You can use wet newspaper to cover the glass - it'll get into all the crevices easily - for quicker spraying.)

She needs a better nightstand, with a good reading lamp on it. This is another thing Ikea or Target excel at - the one she has in the picture is too spindly. Target has really funky ones in their dorm room section, and now's a good time to shop for that stuff. It should have room for a glass of water and a couple of books and a lamp - and not much other clutter.

Fresh Bedding and a new pillow would go a long way, and be really welcoming.This set is gorgeous, and really, any fun patterned set would brighten up the room, as the bed is the largest piece of furniture in it. If it's pretty, she may not be compelled to throw clothes on it! Target's bedding lines are really pretty good. You can mix complementary patterns with bright solids, as long as your walls and floors and major objects are neutral! (PS - a spare sheet set in a cute pattern makes laundry easier, if there's one set for on the bed and one set for in the laundry, or in case of being sick or guests).

For storage: there's plenty of closet space, but kids hate hanging things on hangers. I'd suggest some cubbies for shoes at the bottom of one closet, and converting it to nothing but shelves for folded things and toys. The hardware store ones on adjustable brackets are fine - they should be spaced so that she can stack four or five folded items, like jeans or shirts, on each - no higher, or they'll fall over all the time and she'll make a mess rooting around. Off-season clothes go higher up. Also, maybe install those battery-operated lights you can get at hardware stores, and have some fun painting the insides a gorgeous colour. But mostly this:

Knowing that kids hate drawers and can't find anything once it's put away, I'd suggest that in the corner where the Dora kitchen set is, hang lots of hooks on the walls, at various heights. Hook Rails like these are great, and will keep stuff off the bed and off the floor. On the floor under them, a few baskets just to pitch toys into. Again, Target or Ikea have lots of choices.

I'll also suggest that if she doesn't like using her dresser for clothing, that it's a great place for art supplies. Sure a sock drawer and an underwear drawer, but everything else can go in the closets. And quite honestly, kids don't need a ton of clothing - the less there is, the less there is to pick up and put away. If what she wears in a week can be washed in one or two loads and be put away right away, that's better.

My last few suggestions?

A full-length mirror - it will bounce light around and she's getting to an age where she might begin to care more about her appearance. They're available everywhere, and are not expensive. If you're not superstitious about broken reflections, using mirrored tiles and covering a small section of wall means she (and her friends) can watch themselves dance, and that's a pretty cheap solution.

A Betta Fish. Having a little buddy, something to care for is nice, if she's responsible enough for daily feeding and occasional water changes. They're low-maintenance, can be simple to set up, and aren't as poopy as a goldfish. My daughter likes to always have something "alive" in her room, for company when she's sleeping, and to read to. She now has a Leopard Gecko - but we started with a Betta.

Something for listening to music - a dock and speakers and whateverkind of mp3 player or a little CD player boom box. It's great for audio books too.

A bean bag chair. (These are a good price, good size, and get good reviews - but are online only.) Or, even better, because of the sleepovers, a sleeper chair. Getting it in a dark, adult colour means it can be used elsewhere, and keeps the room from being too cloying.)

A few little simple shelves on the wall for tchotchkes - little cute ceramic things or awards or school crafts. She also needs a little wastebasket, and a laundry hamper. If you put together a wee basket with a few cleaning supplies (such as they sell for dorms), she might find some joy in taking care of her room. A Swiffer duster, a microfibre cloth, an all-purpose spray, and a cute broom is all she needs.

Pictures of her having fun - or of people she loves. You can hang a clothesline across the wall over her bed, and she can just clip them (and other pictures) on it with clothespins. (Or, Ikea has a great curtain wire kit for that.)

For books - there are several threads about what's good on here. Here's one. I'll try to find the others. (I've favorited/bookmarked them) and will send them. Thrift stores are great places. I'd suggest the Junie B. Jones series, the Catwings series by Ursula Le Guin, the Captain Underpants books, the American Girl series, anything by Kate Di Camillo, the Ramona/Beezus books by Judy Blume (and the Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing/Fudge books too!). We're reading the My Side of the Mountain series and other books by Jean Craighead George, and my kid is nuts about them all. It may be time for the Chronicles of Narnia too!
Baskets with books front-facing are good for kids - they don't choose by spine until they're older.

And, I shit you not...
And a hot pink punching bag and gloves. Seriously. That kid has stuff to deal with, and having something to work it out on might do her good. It may help with the periodic rambunctiousness. I plan on getting one for my kid (and I'm sure I'll want to borrow it).

Okay, this is long enough, and I've enjoyed myself. I look at this project as I've just played with it, and I see one day of shopping at a Target, maybe Ikea, a Home Depot-type store and a fabric store (with a good, well-planned list and measurements); one day of cleaning/prep; one painting/wall covering day, if you're gonna; and one day of projects/putting it together - working intensively. Things take longer if you break it up, but I get that you'll probably have to. Aside from the furniture suggestions, it could be done for under $300, I think - shopping carefully. More time and using Freecycle/Craigslist could bring the price down more - but sometimes it's better to pay for convenience, and spend the extra time with the kid.

Thanks for the opportunity to have a creative exercise while my sick kid slept on my lap - she's up, and I think I'm done. But contact me if you'd like - and I'd love to see what you'll all come up with, if you get the chance. (I'm also going to send you a link to my kid's pretty much entirely thrifted room on Apartment Therapy - I feel like I should offer up some proof-in-the-pudding!)
posted by peagood at 10:07 AM on February 15, 2011 [15 favorites]

(Just as an aside, if there is no window, the room has two exits, right? That's basic fire safety.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:32 PM on February 15, 2011

maxwelton: "these tent-like ceilings"

Seconding this idea, and a cheaper option might be a bunch of sheets, if you need to be frugal. I once moved a friend into an unfinished attic with bare ceiling beams and exposed insulation. We tacked up off-white sheets all around, including the ceiling, and it completely transformed it from dark depressing garret into a bright(er) ethereal womb-like space. A definite improvement, and easily removed when she moved out a few years later. You could use sheets with a cloud design or something, if you wanted to get crazy.

I also love the reading tent! There are similar tents made for putting on a single bed. (Googled "bed tent", and found a few styles here) Most of the ones I've seen are designed for younger kids, but you might find one that works if the idea appeals to her. (It does make the task of making the bed a huge pain though.) My daughter is pretty sure we still have hers - it looked similar to the tree house one in the link above. I'd be glad to pass it on if you'd like it.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:33 PM on February 15, 2011

"...(I'm also going to send you a link to my kid's pretty much entirely thrifted room on Apartment Therapy - I feel like I should offer up some proof-in-the-pudding!)..."

Aw, Peagood - can we see the room on Apartment Therapy too? Pleeeeeeeeaaase - you have me so curious!
posted by honey-barbara at 6:04 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: honey-barbara, Its amazing, but I should probably let Peagood post it
posted by Blasdelb at 4:41 PM on February 17, 2011

Blasdelb, would you pretty please please post an update with pictures when you finish?
posted by ellenaim at 6:18 PM on February 17, 2011

Best answer: Blasdelb, if you would prefer not to post here, preeeeetttty pleeeeaaaase will you mefimail me some pics? I'll send you a toy koala or kangaroo for your gal from my far-away-from-you home.

Also have you seen this site for kids' bedroom ideas. She has some lovely ideas.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: I'll definitely post pictures of the room when we're done, I need to hear back from the girl before I can start anything so it may be a while.

That is also a very awesome site.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:20 PM on February 18, 2011

Response by poster: I figured I would post an update to the thread before it closed.

The girl is still a guest of the state, only now she is in an "educational facility of the variety with a great deal of locked doors after going through two foster home situations that did not work out. Her Father took a somewhat ill-advised vacation out of the country to visit family and is now stuck in a way that it is unclear whether the stuckness is indefinite or not and some of the tings we have heard about the situation are mutually exclusive.

Her Mother's family seem to want her but their situation is almost certainly bad enough to not be an improvement on the facility. Her Father's family however are very well situated in Arkansas, and care about her, but were always concerned about her behavior, are that much more concerned about how the facility has "improved" it, and already have kids of they need to be protective of. They do still want to raise her if possible but moving a ward of the state across state lines is also non-trivial.

At the moment my landlord/housemate, the father's absolutely wonderful though oft spurned occasionally significant other/friend, and I are trying to keep track of things to help get the father back in the country and the girl with her father's family but things are moving slowly. Building the awesome room and having her move back in is no longer really an accomplishable or really even desirable goal for her at this point. Even if she didn't then she definitely now needs a lot more support then her father can really provide.

I'm sorry I don't have much good news, but I did get the books I received to her and she loves Black Beauty. Thank you all for the great advice in this thread.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2011

I always connected with Black Beauty as well; I think the story of a special horse who is not always recognized or treated as such has a special resonance with children who feel unwanted.

I am sorry to hear that your plans fell through. Thank you for updating even though I'm sure it wasn't pleasant for you. Let us know if there is anything else you or she might need.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:38 AM on September 22, 2011

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